Monday, April 28, 2008

Is Hillary taking down the Democratic party with her?

I've never aspired to be a political commentator. In fact, I would be one of the least qualified to talk about the American electoral process, and its repurcussions. But I do follow the general trend. And who are we kidding? This year's presidential elections promises to be one of the most interesting in recent memory. So with that in mind, I wanted to explore something that's been nagging at me for a while now.
Is Hillary taking down the Democratic party with her?
Consider what's been happening so far. From all accounts, Hillary has as much chances of getting the Democratic party nomination as Tim Henman has of winning the Wimbledon. That is, in theory, she can still win. And she has the right to fight it out till there is no theoretical chance of winning. This could take a while to prove. But the more she fights, the longer the democratic primary circus rolls along. And the more it rolls along, the more energy that is sapped out of Obama and Hillary, and the more dirt that is being dug up and thrown by each on the other.
Hillary makes some interesting arguments. She says Obama is outspending her 4:1 or whatever the ratio is, and still not able to take her out. She has a point. However, what she's not telling us is that, in places like Pennsylvania, she had a much bigger lead, that Obama has whittled down in the past few months. Also, if Obama can raise four times as much money as Hillary, it only speaks of his popularity and efficient fund-raising machinery. Both these abilities will serve him very well in the actual elections.
So now the question is where does Hillary draw the line between being selfish and exercising her rights, and doing what's right for the party and its greater good?

This is a hard question, and as a business school student, I find this a very interesting predicament. When books like Jim Collin's 'Good to Great' and Bill George's 'Authentic Leadership' define a true leader of an organization, they talk about someone who puts the greater good of his/her company before his/her own interests. A main ingredient of this quality is when to recognize that you are getting to be a liability for your own firm, instead of being an asset. Great leaders also innately make themselves redundant. That is, they put such capable people and processes in place that the company should never rely on one charismatic CEO.
It appears to me that Hillary is doing the exact opposite of this. Her campaign has pushed the limits of Obama's patience, and taunted him so much that he has had to step down from the lofty perch of dignified politics he had envisioned. They have tested his endurance and made a huge brouhaha on comments taken out of context. In effect, they have prolonged the democratic nomination so much that whoever gets the ticket might not have enough time to fight a well-prepared McCain in the presidential race. All this would be fine if Hillary stood a 50-50 chance. But from all accounts, she doesn't. If she were a truly selfless leader, this is the point she would step aside and stand behind Obama.
A different way of looking at this is that Hillary has transformed Obama, from an idealist to a pragmatist, who is now well-positioned to take on anything the GOP can dish out. Again in a business context, fierce competition provides focus and vision to a firm. And a monopoly, as in the case of McCain, can lead to lethargy. From that context, I do think Obama would be a stronger opponent to McCain now than 3 months ago. That is, if someone tells Hillary that its time now to call off the dogs and stand behind the party. Interesting times are ahead...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kellogg's 2008 India Business Conference

Kellogg is hosting its annual India Business Conference on May 10th. This is apparently the longest running event of its kind (among BSchools). The theme this year is 'Brand India' and where we see it going in the future. The event is promising to be bigger and better than ever, with an outstanding list of keynote speakers and panelists. Its been fun playing my part in organizing this event. This year, for the first time, we are also putting together a new publication called India@Kellogg, that will contain interviews/thoughts/articles about India from our panelists, industry experts, faculty and students. Click on the image below to enlage it.

Announcing the 2008 India Business Conference
May 10, 2008 - Owen L. Coon Auditorium
Kellogg School of Management, Evanston, IL

Register at:
Register now! Past conferences have sold out early.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Recruiting and the aftermath (Kellogg Winter Quarter 08)

Howdy there! Just when you all think I'm all but done, I just pop up out of the blue, don't I? Yeah, its a very carefully cultivated talent. And not to mention years of non-committal behavior. Anyways, for those of you waiting with bated breath to know what happened in my winter quarter, here's a quick run through!
Recruiting Process:

  • The winter quarter is in some ways the most stressful one for most BSchool students. It is when companies land up on campus in hordes to pick out the best and the brightest for their summer internship programs. This is huge because most companies are also looking to extend full-time offers to those who really impress them during the summer. When school starts the second week of jan, it is usually a whirlwind of last minute networking, meeting company on-campus reps and attending coffee chats, finalizing your resume and writing millions of cover letters and making them unique to each firm you are applying to. The Kellogg Career Management Center (CMC) does a phenomenal job of getting a diverse range of companies, prioritizing them etc. They also have a great web-site. However, the process could be slightly confusing even before you get to the interview stage. So let me see if I can explain this better.
There is a concept of 'Open Lists' and 'Closed Lists'. Once you customize your resume and cover letter and click on the 'apply' button for a particular firm, your information is made available to the firm. Then these companies wade through these profiles and pick out the most 'promising' ones or with the best fit. These candidates get added on their 'closed list'. This is when your networking might come in handy. The recruiter might remember your name and decide to add you to the closed list. The less fortunate ones that are interested in the firm but cannot get on the closed list then have to go through a bidding process. You start with a certain number of points that you have to use effectively to bid for multiple firms. The number of slots on the 'open list' are always equal to the number on the closed list'. The system is designed this way to put some element of control in the hands of the students so they get a chance to interview with their top choice companies. Firms who wish to come and interview on campus will have to abide by these rules. Some large firms - most notably McKinsey - not wanting to be restricted thus, decide to interview off-campus.

Once you get on any of these lists, you are informed via e-mail, and the CMC schedules the interview using a smart algorithm to avoid conflicts with your current class schedule or with other interviews. But this is not always possible. The actual recruiting process varies with the industry and job function you are getting into. One-third of Kellogg (abour 150-200) gives Consulting a shot, and about another one-third goes for Investment Banking. Since the kind of preparation required for these 2 streams are entirely different, you should be making up your mind about what you would like to pursue, before the quarter starts. Kellogg also has a reputation of having very diverse job interests. What this means is that while 80% of Wharton students might go into 20 companies, 80% of Kellogg students will go into 50-60 firms. I'm not saying one is better than the other, but this does make things interesting. Anyways, the remaining one-third go into a variety of roles like Marketing/Brand management, Technology, PE/VC/Sales & Trading, General Management etc.


Consulting typically has 2 rounds of personal interviews. The first one will usually be on-campus and will involve 2 back-to-back 45-minute interviews, each involving an element of fit and 'case' interviews. You will probably get a phone call within a couple of days informing you whether you have been shortlisted for the final round or if you have been "dinged". You better hope the call does not start off with something like "We enjoyed meeting you...". This is a sure sign of a ding and you might as well zone out for the rest of the conversation. The second round might be in their office or in a hotel, and involves another 2-3 interviews with senior folks from the firm (principals and partners). Then you wait for the fateful phone call once again.
'Case' interviews for me was a new concept. What happens is that the recruiter/consultant gives you a business case scenario and some limited information/data and asks you for your thoughts and recommendations (so what should the firm do to increase its profit margin or market share?) Case interviews vary widely from the very structured to the highly vague. They are designed to test both your analytical/problem-solving skills as well as your facility with public math. Its not always about getting to the right answer. You have to be thinking on your feet, asking the right questions and taking charge of the interview.
Cases can usually be put into a few buckets (profitability, M&As, marketing etc.). Practice definitely makes you better since you start developing the frameworks you are most comfortable with, and you are half-way into your analysis (in your mind) even before the interviewer finishes explaining the case. Since most students are quite good at cases by the time interviews come around, you can differentiate yourself only by being outstandingly sharp and insightful - quick with math, out of the box solutions etc.
My Recruiting experience:

Now that we have set the context, let's run over my experience. I started off case preps when the quarter started, giving me about 3 weeks of prep time before the first interview. I practiced with my consulting buddy group, with seniors and other mates, and even with my wife. I was by no means very good when my interviews started, but I saw myself getting better through the first week. I got a bunch of dings in the first as well as second rounds. This is the time when you are doing a lot of self-introspection, and start doubting your abilities - Am I really good enough? What the hell am I doing here? You also start looking at Plan B, and for me, this was technology (product manager, operations etc.). Consulting firms are usually done within the first 2 weeks of recruiting, so you know you are running out of options after the first few dings.

These interviews (especially back-to-back) can be long and tiring and leave you flat. I remember one friday when I interviewed for 3 firms in a row, about 4 hrs in all. My jaws were hurting at the end of it and I couldn't think straight. You are also constantly wondering how you could have done better and what you screwed up, and then start dreading the phone call informing you of the result.
I even had to miss my first wedding anniversary as well as Valentine's day since I had to attend some company event/dinner. The wife was not happy but she understood what I was going through and was extremely supportive. I hope I made it up to her.

Eventually, luck smiled upon me, and I managed to get an offer from a big consulting firm. What made this more surprising was that this firm had never been on my radar, and I had done no sort of networking with them. But when I finally met the people there, I really liked them - completely down to earth and without the stuffy air and suits. I also got the location of my choice - Chicago of course. Since the firm is involved in a variety of industries, I will have a variety of projects to choose from. Most importantly, I was not branded as a technology/IT specialist, and will get to try out different strategy projects. So this was a no-brainer for me, and I even canceled a Google second round invite to Mountainview, much to the changrin of my friends.

Once you get an offer, you are given some time to make your decision. Consulting firms have a "sell" weekend when they wine and dine you to influence your decision. We (my wife and I) were put up at the classy 'W' hotel in Chicago, and were taken to the best restaurants and bars over the weekend. This also included spending a day at the office. It was nice to get pampered, although I had already made my decision.

Rest of the Quarter:

While recruiting was on, courses took a backseat. Classes were half-empty and professors do understand the strain on students and take it easy during the first half. That said, mid-terms were on us before we could recover, and it was back to the books. Group projects were usually done over e-mail since it was next to impossible to schedule a time that agrees with the entire group. When the bulk of the recruiting is over (50% of students with offers), we were already more than half way into the quarter, and it was a mad scramble after that. Add to this our other club and extra-curricular involvements, and things get really complicated.

But once I signed my offer, it was a huge weight of my shoulders and I breezed through the rest of the quarter. Compared to the Fall quarter, I felt I did not get much out of the coursework in winter. But this was because I did not put in enough time and effort. Luckily, I had pretty easy/manageable courses and did reasonably well.

I was also part of a Kellogg team that competed in a Strategy War competition in Boston, against Harvard, MIT Sloan and Chicago GSB. And guess what, we won! There was some media coverage about this competition that I have given below if you are into this sort of stuff!

Here, here, here and here. And yes, some Kellogg coverage as well...

Spring break:

And the quarter ended and spring break was upon us, not a minute too soon. While a lot of Kellogg students embark on GIM (Global Initiatives in Management) trips around the world, I had decided to skip this, and had instead substituted this with another course during the quarter. I wanted a much needed break when I could just lounge aorund doing nothing and spend quality time with my wife and dog. This was exactly what I did, and am back this Spring Quarter with my batteries recharged and a spring in my step.